SI Vault
 
THE HOST IS BEST
Coles Phinizy
November 19, 1956
While getting ready to stage a fierce Olympic swimming match, Australia also built a team strong enough to keep most of the gold medals at home
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 19, 1956

The Host Is Best

While getting ready to stage a fierce Olympic swimming match, Australia also built a team strong enough to keep most of the gold medals at home

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

AUSTRALIA TAKES OVER

MEN'S SWIMMING

Event

Olympic record

Best 1956 performance by Olympic entry

100-meter freestyle

57.1 Clark Scholes ( U.S.) 1952

55.2 Jon Henricks ( Australia)

400-meter freestyle

4:30.7 Jean Boiteux ( France) 1952

4:27 Murray Rose ( Australia)

1,500-meter freestyle

18:30 Ford Konno ( U.S.) 1952

17:59.5 Murray Rose ( Australia)

100-meter backstroke

1:05.4 Yoshi Oyakawa ( U.S.) 1952

1:02.9 David Theile ( Australia)

200-meter butterfly

----*

2:19 Bill Yorzyk ( U.S.)

200-meter breaststroke

----*

2:33.2 Masaru Furukawa ( Japan)

WOMEN'S SWIMMING

100-meter freestyle

1:05.5 Judith Temes ( Hungary) 1952

1:02.4 Lorraine Crapp ( Australia)

400-meter freestyle

5:12.1 Valerie Gyenge ( Hungary) 1952

4:47.2 Lorraine Crapp ( Australia)

100-meter backstroke

1:13.8 Geertje Wielema ( Holland) 1952

1:13.4 Judy Grinham ( Great Britain)

100-meter butterfly

----*

1:11.8 Shelley Mann ( U.S.)

200-meter breaststroke

----*

2:53.3 Eva Ten Elsen ( Germany)

*In previous Olympics, performers were permitted to use both butterfly stroke and orthodox breaststroke in the traditional breaststroke event. In these Games for the first time there is a separate event for each stroke and the best times made in each event by men and women at Melbourne will constitute new Olympic records.

For the olympic swimming competition, which begins in about two weeks, the host city of Melbourne three years ago designed a brave, new sort of stadium with leaning sides holding up both the roof and tiers of spectators. Australians, seeing the first confused girders hanging in the sky by the Yarra River, feared Melbourne would never get this $675,000 folly built for the Games, but, being Australians, they bought tickets anyway. Every seat for every final event was sold out a year before the stadium was finished.

For eight fierce days of swimming, to many hopeful people, the 50 meters of water in this stadium will rival in importance the turbid Suez Canal. More than 30 countries will be involved and for many competitors it will be an Olympic reunion. Ford Konno, who won three medals, and Mrs. Glenn (Pat) McCormick, who won both dives in 1952, are again on the U.S. team. Veteran freestylers—Woolsey of the U.S., Duncan of South Africa, Wardrop of Britain, Suzuki of Japan, and Boiteux and Eminente of France—and such veteran backstrokers as Hurring of New Zealand, Bozon of France and Oyakawa of the U.S. will all be competing again. Three of Hungary's ladies, finally able to leave during a moratorium in the revolt, arrived late but ready to defend their 1952 titles.

The titles that many of these veteran lords and ladies won at Helsinki in 1952 will now at Melbourne wind up in the hands of their Australian hosts. Australia has not only built a brave, new swimming stadium, but also a young, strong team such as the world has never seen. Australia's show of strength will start on the first afternoon of competition when the heats of 100-meter freestylers fly off the blocks. A sandy-haired 21-year-old New South Welshman, Jon Henricks, will swim through his heat that afternoon, through the semifinals that night, and without much doubt move into the finals as favorite. By his clockings over the past two years Henricks has proved to be almost a body length better than everybody, but since 1936, when the Hungarian Ferenc Czik, unnoticed in an outside lane, stole ahead of the U.S. and Japan, few experts have cared for picking Olympic sprint winners from the face of a stopwatch. If Henricks is beaten, it is an even chance the upset winner will be either of his Australian teammates, Gary Chapman or John Devitt, who, though little known outside Australia, are equal to the best Americans and better than the Japanese. Any American not sold on the sprint power of Australia need only remember "King Rex" Aubrey, the Australian who ruled the U.S. college ranks for Yale last winter. Last month back home Aubrey wasn't good enough to make the team.

Americans have few doubts about Jon Henricks' ability. Two years ago on tour here he beat the best Americans and set new U.S. records at 100 and 200 meters. Last year he repeated the beating in Hawaii. Paradoxically, down under Henricks cuts a worrisome figure. He is a cocky soul who drives the family Humber Snipe with verve—some experts feared he might be the sort of swimming star who flares up like a supernova and sputters out. Last winter Henricks gashed his foot on a power mower, put on weight and lost some close races to his persistent rival, Gary Chapman. Doubts grew. Toeing the starting block for a time trial in the new Olympic pool three weeks ago, Henricks announced, "Now I'll show you if I'm over the hill." With a flying start he swam his fastest 100 meters ever: 55.1. The supernova was still blazing in the Southern Cross.

On the basis of their records since January, Australia's swimmers should win 14 of the 23 gold medals in swimming. Where did Australia, winner of only 11 gold medals in the last 12 Olympics, suddenly get all this power? Part of the answer is old. Australians are not the sort of people who take everything except sofa and a floor lamp to the beach and then just sit. Australians swim in the water. The big surf lines that roll past the headlands of the east Australian coast build the greatest reserve of raw talent in the world. For years Australia has been a great lender. Australia gave the world the crawl stroke, and 20 years ago a smiling Australian boy named Willie Kendall came to the U.S. to study and helped Harvard break Yale's 13-year string of swimming victories.

As more of its boys packed off to college and the rigors of U.S. coaching, Australia, the lender, began borrowing. Australian coaches adopted U.S. techniques, notably even-lap swimming and the calisthenics championed by Yale's Bob Kiphuth. Until 1951 in Australia a professional was not allowed to coach during amateur competition. The coaches who will guide this Australian team are real pros. The late '30s—when Willie Kendall was in the swim here—were in another respect the dawn of competitive swimming down under. In those years a half dozen Australian families were begetting and rearing a precocious pack of aquatic moppets who, now at 17, 18 and 19, will be the exciting new stars of the Olympics.

One of them, Lorraine Crapp, made her international bow two years ago at a most inauspicious time for a swimmer. As a 15-year-old she won the 440-yard title at the British Empire Games while the world focused on the cinder track where Bannister dueled Landy. In 1955 activities elsewhere diverted the eyes of the swimming world from Australia. In the U.S. the Walter Reed girls were developing into quite a crowd. In the Far East touring U.S. men lost a series of bouts to their traditional Japanese rivals. In Europe the Hungarian ladies who had cleaned up at Helsinki were still at peak, and a new brood of little Dutch girls was tearing up the record book.

Things are different now. Lorraine Crapp enters the Olympics as the outstanding woman athlete of the year, and may well be the outstanding athlete of either sex in any sport at the Games. Women outside Australia don't break many freestyle records any more, for this year Lorraine Crapp and her 19-year-old Australian teammate, Dawn Fraser, have pushed all the records from 100 yards through a half mile almost out of reach. With a toss of her close-bobbed hair (now imitated by Aussie teen-agers and called the "Crapp cut") Lorraine shrugs off record breaking and frankly can't remember how many times she has broken what. "Mummy looks after the record department," she advises. "I do the swimming." At this point even Mummy may be confused. Last August in one race daughter Lorraine set new records for 200 meters, 220 yards, 400 meters and 440 yards, and last month, in 62� water fit only for seals, she broke them all again. Her present 400-meter record, 4:47.2, puts her 30 yards ahead of any rival, and would have won her a medal in the U.S. men's championships and placed her sixth in the finals of the U.S. men's Olympic trials. Lorraine Crapp is an almost certain winner in the 400-meter freestyle and equally certain to be in a close fight with Dawn Fraser at 100 meters (but in this sprint, look out for the sleepers in the outside lanes: a newcomer named Natalie Myburg of South Africa; the versatile U.S. queen, Shelley Mann, and an Australian 15-year-old, Faith Leech). Crapp, Fraser, Leech and any one of a number of second rankers down under should also win the women's 400-meter relay.

The Australian girls have broken all their world records in long-course pools which, though standard for Olympic competition, are slower, since a swimmer loses the advantage of the push-off from two turns in every 100 meters. The Australian men still do not have enough of a jump on their foreign rivals to break many of the world records set outside Australia in the faster, short-course pools. If they had been swimming short pools this year, between them, Jon Henricks, Gary Chapman, Kevin O'Halloran and Murray Rose of Australia would have broken every world freestyle record from 100 yards through the 440. At Melbourne these four will get some justice outside the record book. Henricks, Chapman and O'Halloran have turned in the year's fastest 200-meter times, and Murray Rose ranks fifth behind the U.S.'s Bill Woolsey. In the men's 800-meter relay these four are 15 yards better than the U.S. and Japan. Given luck on turns and starts, they should break the Olympic record and, despite the slow long course, the world record as well.

After a spat with his own officials, Jean Boiteux of France is back in condition to defend his Olympic title and record in the 400 meters. At Melbourne he will probably lose both title and record. To an Australian? Yes, probably to the youngest of the Aussies, 17-year-old Iain Murray Rose, a vegetarian who eats seaweed jelly for pep and who seems to have sensed at infancy that he must hurry to make this Olympic team. Murray Rose swam at 3, competed at 7, won his first junior title at 11, and at 15 swam the 440 yards in 4:37.2. Last summer Rose's best 400-meter time was 4:31. Winning the U.S. Olympic trials in 4:33.1, George Breen indicated he could close the gap on Rose. In the Australian trials last month Rose opened the gap again, swimming" 4:27.1, roughly three seconds under the Olympic record. As if in revenge, Breen took the world half-mile record from Rose, and Rose countered by taking the 1,500-meter record away from Breen. In the 400 meters at Melbourne if Breen and Rose should push too hard in their duel, a number of good men lying back in the flanking lanes—possibly Australia's Murray Garrety, Hungary's Sandor Zaborszky, Japan's young hopeful Tsuyoshi Yamanaka, or Bill Woolsey and George Onekea of the U.S.—might come on to win. But at 1,500 meters, Rose and Breen should fast leave the field behind in the Games' most exciting duel of two men who are much alike at poolside and contrasts in the water. Both Rose and Breen get keyed up before a race and swim best that way. "Before a race," George Breen confides, "I lie down and think about it for two hours." In the water Rose is smooth, riding a steady kick, and Breen is a thrasher. Rose can finish very strong. Breen must go out strong and hang on. Neither can win by matching the other. Each must follow his own pace and hope it brings him in first. If Rose should beat Breen at 1,500 meters, Australia may have a grand slam in freestyle medals, something no country ever did to the U.S. and Japan before.

Continue Story
1 2